Mass. man in Wesleyan death committed to hospital

Posted Feb. 29, 2012, at 8:37 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 29, 2012, at 9:09 p.m.

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — A Massachusetts man who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2009 slaying of a Wesleyan University student was committed to a psychiatric hospital Wednesday for 60 years.

Stephen Morgan had been charged with murder and other crimes in the May 2009 shooting death of 21-year-old Johanna Justin-Jinich, a college junior from Timnath, Colo. A three-judge panel found him not guilty in December after a trial in which a forensic psychologist testified that he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

His defense team had recommended that he be committed for 45 years. The state wanted the maximum of 75 years.

The panel on Wednesday committed the 32-year-old Morgan to the maximum-security Whiting Forensic Institute in Middletown for six decades after Susan McKinley, a clinical social worker at Whiting, testified that a staff evaluation found that Morgan is psychotic, depressed and a danger to others.

McKinley was part of the evaluation team that found Morgan suffers from what is clinically called schizoaffective disorder, depressed type.

“We believe that he is still symptomatic,” she said. “He really doesn’t have a realistic idea of how his emotional or mental state led to his crime.”

Morgan is taking anti-psychotic and anti-depressive medications, and he showed no visible emotion during the hearing or the judge’s ruling, sitting silently wearing gray sweatpants and a darker gray sweatshirt. He spoke once, declining an opportunity to address the judges.

His attorney, Richard Brown said he and Morgan’s family hold out hope that his mental illness can be controlled.

“[The family] concluded that he’s no longer a prisoner, he’s a patient,” Brown said outside the courtroom. “I remember that statement. And they hold out hope that with appropriate treatment, appropriate passage of time, that Stephen will get well enough that authorities will feel comfortable putting him in a less restrictive environment.”

Justin-Jinich, who would have graduated from Wesleyan last year, was shot seven times while working at a bookstore cafe near the liberal arts school in Middletown. Prosecutors said Morgan was partially motivated by anti-Semitism as he stalked and harassed the young woman, who was Jewish.

Justin-Jinich’s family didn’t attend the committal hearing, but her mother sent the court a letter urging the maximum allowable confinement, saying Morgan also threatened her daughter’s friends, Jewish students and Wesleyan students.

“Morgan harassed, stalked and murdered our older daughter (sister, friend …), Dr. Ingrid Justin wrote. “We have lost not only sweet Johanna, in all her complex loveliness, but the future we shared together. We remain devastated and forever changed.”

McKinley testified that Morgan didn’t understand where the anti-Semitism remarks came from and “never uttered a bigoted remark during the evaluation over the last 60 days.”

Morgan apparently met Justin-Jinich at New York University in the summer of 2007,police said. Justin-Jinich was working at The Red and Black Cafe inside Broad Street Books on May 6, 2009, when Morgan walked in disguised in a wig and glasses and shot her seven times with a handgun before fleeing.

In a letter to the court, Wesleyan President Michael Smith called Justin-Jinich a “loved and admired member of our community.”

“Johanna’s murder forever altered the lives of her family, friends, classmates and an entire university community,” he wrote.

Justin-Jinich was a 2006 graduate of the Westtown School, a Quaker boarding school outside Philadelphia.

While attending Wesleyan, Justin-Jinich filed a harassment complaint against Morgan for unwanted and insulting phone calls and emails, but ended up not pursuing criminal charges.

At the trial, a police detective read aloud an email Justin-Jinich sent to Morgan in December 2008. She wrote: “I am so tired of you STALKING me. Leave me alone! … YOU are the type of person that women take self-defense classes to protect themselves against.”

A day before Justin-Jinich’s email, Morgan wrote an email to her saying, “When you were upset about not communicating anymore, I thought it was because you needed me. But it was all stupid because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing at the time.”

In her response, Justin-Jinich said she’d go to police if she ever saw him in person, and she would defend herself if necessary.

Before Morgan’s arrest the day after the shooting, police announced that he left a journal in the bookstore in which he had written about killing Justin-Jinich, going on a shooting spree on campus and targeting Jews.

Justin-Jinich’s family is Jewish; her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor. Authorities also said they found an infamous anti-Semitic book, “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” in Morgan’s motel room.

Authorities say Morgan wrote in his journal about all the “beautiful and smart” people at Wesleyan, a liberal arts school of about 3,000 students in Middletown, about 18 miles south of Hartford.

“His rage increased where the potential victimization went from her to her family, to her friends, to Wesleyan students to Jews,” prosecutor Timothy Liston said. “This individual presents a danger to almost anybody he could encounter if he misperceives a social interaction or a chance meeting as he had in this situation.”

Morgan might not have to spend the entire 60 years at Whiting. He will be re-evaluated every two years, and his attorneys can then petition the state’s psychiatric review board for a new hearing.

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